No Killing Biafra

By Emma Maduabuchi on

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This piece is about Agwu Okpanku, one of the irrepressible Biafrans that survived the Biafra/Nigeria war. He was among many at the time who strongly held the belief that Biafra would never die.

It was this gentleman who, way back in the early 70s, was so disgusted with Yakubu Gowon’s policies and attempts to obliterate the name of Biafra from history books that he wrote a very bold piece with the above title, “No Killing Biafra”. The article, written in the then East Central State newspaper, the Renaissance, was in response to the renaming of the piece of water bordering Eastern Nigeria (Biafra).

In maps before the war, the piece of water has always been known as “Bight of Biafra”. But Okpanku woke up one morning to see that in the new maps produced under Gowon’s military junta, the water bore a different name: “Bight of Benin”. O yes, it was first renamed “Bight of Benin” under Gowon, alongside the original “Bight of Benin”. It was in later years that “Bight of Bonny” started appearing on the maps.

Outraged by the development, Okpanku wrote his piece explaining to all, that just as truth would never be hidden (in line with the biblical truth as contained in Luke 8: 17), the history and truth of Biafra would never be obliterated from the history books.

Who would not be outraged? Biafra had existed up to five thousand years before Gowon was born, and Gowon grew up to see “Bight of Biafra” in the maps. The name Biafra and “Bight of Biafra” did not start existing with the Republic of Biafra Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s declared in 1967. But Gowon who wanted Biafra obliterated from history is one who claims to be a Christian. If he is indeed a Christian, has he not heard or read of Proverbs 22: 28; or 23: 10, which advices that we should not change the ancient land marks.

For the above reasons, many diehard Biafrans at the time thought that trying to obliterate everything about Biafra by Gowon (fully backed by Britain) was a disservice to history. They felt also that the removal was akin to Gowon taking his victory in the war beyond rational level. To make the feeling of outrage worse, it signified to them, a wicked way of showing disrespect to the more than four million women, children, the aged, and the sick that Gowon’s soldiers murdered through his scotched earth policies.

To cut the long story short, just hours after the publication of the article, Okpanku was arrested by Gowon’s junta and whisked away to “God knows where”. The story of Okpanku’s arrest resounded across the then East Central State for weeks and months.

Just an impressionable young boy at the time, I knew not what happened to Okpanku afterwards neither did I hear of Okpanku again. But many young boys like me took notice and developed interest, especially in view of the fact that he was praised for his courage. The people expressed belief in the maxim that “history will vindicate the just”.

Now to the present, few days ago – while researching this article – I found a post indicating that Okpanku was killed few days later, after his arrest, and his body dumped near a railway line. Obviously, his killers had in mind that a train would run over body his body before it would be discovered. But it did not happen; no train ran over his cold body before it was discovered.

Instructively, inspiration for this article came about as I followed news of atrocities committed by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in the Middle-east, their destruction of religious historical artifacts and sites, and the civilised world’s outrage over it. I noted that Habib Afam, President of Syriac League of Lebanon was reported to have disagreed with the actions of ISIL.

Part of his reported words were: “They are not destroying our present life, or only taking the villages, churches, and homes, or erasing our future – they want to erase our culture, past and civilisation”.

But what ISIL is doing is not different from what Gowon and his men did to Biafra and Biafrans. What Afam said was not different from what Okpanku did and was murdered. This is why this article is written as a tribute to Agwu Okpanku, and to pledge that lovers of truth will ever live to remember his sacrifice for truth.


Posted on March, 16 2015

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